x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Stocking up on small change can make life in the UAE a lot simpler

Change is a precious commodity in the UAE - and stocking up on dirhams and small notes can make life much simpler.

The country seems to have run out of change. Tip boxes nationwide emit a hollow clang when the occasional coin is dropped into them. This is not the result of miserliness; it's sheer necessity. We need our dirhams! Getting anywhere, buying something while you are there and getting home again have become an ordeal. The taxi driver will have no change. And even if he does he will give it to you only with coercion and under duress. I hardly ever begrudge a taxi driver a tip - but a tip to me is Dh5, not Dh50.

Go to any supermarket in the UAE and I guarantee you the teller will ask "Ma'am do you have any dirham coins?"

Proffer a Dh100 note at a coffee outlet and the barista will respond with a mournful shake of the head and then ask the inevitable "No change ma'am?" Then, if you really don't have any - remember, change is like gold-dust here and some people will lie to hold on to it or get more - they will take your note and give you your change. Their faces will be set woefully, as you have, in all probability, ruined their morning.

The reason, as I see it, is this. The easiest way to get money is to withdraw it from an ATM. The smallest note to come out of any ATM in the country is Dh100. And if you want to withdraw Dh500, you are more than likely to get a Dh500 note. Which you are then stuck with for a long time as no one will give you change for it without a fight.

A recent taxi journey, for which I thought I was prepared, provided me with the solution. The journey would cost me approximately Dh30. I had broken a Dh100 note into two 50s - it was all the change the giant chain supermarket I was in had. I thought I was safe. We got to my destination, I handed over Dh50 and the driver just looked at me. 'Surely not', I thought. Then it came "No change ma'am?" he asked. "Yes," I howled, "That IS my change.

I got it especially to avoid this. Why don't you have any? You are a taxi driver and you should keep a bundle of change with you at all times."

A bundle of change at all times... An idea was planted. The next day I marched into my bank and withdrew Dh500 over the counter. In coins and Dh5, Dh10 and Dh20 notes.

What a difference it has made. Yes I am walking around with a bulging wallet and it is a bit of a pain. But I haven't had to feel guilty for ruining anyone's day and better yet I haven't heard the curiously ungrammatical question "No change?" for a whole week. And let me tell you, that's nearly priceless.